Who Could Forget Tofu, the Adorable, Doe-Eyed Robot?

by Amy Marcott on October 19, 2010 · 1 comment

in Engineering, Modern Geekhood

Tofu. Credit: Ryan Wistort ’10

A couple years ago, Media Lab student Ryan Wistort SM ’10 embarked on a project to explore the intersection between robotic social expression and 2D animation technology. The result: Tofu, a squishable, squashable robot with OLED eyes and a fluffy, grapefruit-shaped body. Slice recently caught up with Wistort and asked him a few questions about his affable robot.

Slice:What led to the creation of Tofu?

In my mind design and engineering are very similar. This philosophy has lead me to a career in both robotics and design. At the MIT Media Lab I used both to explore the relationship between robotics and human interaction. Tofu began to take shape in my mind when I started asking myself how robots could be as lifelike and lovable as cartoon characters, and how such robots could be used.

Slice:Who was involved in the design and build process?

The Media Lab fabrication facilities and culture make it easy to go from napkin drawing to prototype very quickly. I designed and built Tofu after a couple months of prototyping different designs.

Slice:What are the potential educational applications for a robot like Tofu?

Tofu is designed to enable a suspension of disbelief for those interacting with it. A teddy bear is not alive, but therapists commonly find that abused children will discuss difficult issues with a teddy bear long before they would with an adult. Through suspension of disbelief, the teddy bear becomes “alive”, and in this case, serves as a social proxy between the child and the therapist. Tofu is designed to play a similar roll of social proxy, but with a wider palette of expression. When children read to Tofu, parents or educators are not being replaced, but given a tool that enables children to read to a captive, non-judgmental listener. Similar applications could be generated for math and science curricula, various therapies, and literacy learning, to name a few.

Slice:What’s next for Tofu?

I believe entertainment is just scratching the surface of benefits robots like Tofu have to offer. I have designed an entire family of next generation robots like Tofu to bring the same benefits to a larger audience through education and media applications.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Emilio April 29, 2011 at 3:07 am

Excellent contribution to the education of children in different areas. TOFU is very likely to become a “friend” very close to the child and discuss things that nobody else would have. To have such data would be interesting for further analysis and help the child, perhaps to solve problems of social or other, so would it be desirable and feasible to incorporate an audio / video recorder?
I think parents would be very grateful for that.

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